A star is born

Otis Fulton (Psychology ’79) has just what an art director was looking for.

By Chip Jones
This is an image of Otis Fulton

Fulton (Psychology ’79)
Photo courtesy of Otis Fulton.

Copyright the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Used by permission.

A funny thing happened to Steve Sage as he prepared to board a plane home — he spotted the perfect guy for a TV commercial. A businessman from Richmond.

Sage, senior art director at The Martin Agency, was exhausted after a long day of tryouts with actors in Hollywood last month. He was searching for a special someone for a United Parcel Service spot set to air during the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in February.

“We spent the better part of a day looking for a tall man,” Sage said. “We probably saw 15 guys between 6-foot-5 and 7-foot-3.”

Unfortunately, most lacked the kind of towering strength Sage and fellow Martin executive Brian Cooper felt they needed to make the commercial work, he said.

The pair thought they'd have to schedule another tryout and went to Los Angeles International Airport to catch the red-eye to Richmond via New York. Then someone caught their tired eyes.

“He was so big that other people were turning to watch him,” Sage said. They “were pointing and looking.”

Sage and Cooper, vice president and senior broadcast producer at Martin, knew this was the giant of their commercial dreams. He had broad shoulders, moved well, and, in his well-cut black sports coat, was no slouch in the fashion department.

Their plane was boarding, though, and there was no time to approach him. Luckily, it turned out he was on their flight.

Most people were sleeping, so they figured they’d wait to talk to make their pitch when they landed. But after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the tall traveler had disappeared.

On the final leg of the trip, Sage was approached by a Delta Air Lines flight attendant. Would he be willing to move from the rear of the plane up to a seat near the emergency exit? The occupant didn’t feel qualified to sit near the exit door.

After Sage switched seats, he was stunned to see the big man sitting across from him, sleeping soundly with the help of noise-canceling headphones.
Once again, Sage had to bide his time. But after landing, the creative team finally caught up with its prey.

“These two guys came up behind me and introduced themselves as being from The Martin Agency,” said Otis Fulton, an executive for an educational testing firm who lives in Richmond.

Nearly 6-foot-11, Fulton is a former center for the University of Virginia basketball team and played for the 1976 ACC tournament champion. The Martin executives informed Fulton they wanted to cast him in a role for a UPS commercial at a racing facility in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m not a NASCAR fan," said Fulton, 49. “It didn't really mean anything to me.” Intrigued by their offer and the prospect of earning some easy money, he agreed to try out. Two days later he arrived at the agency's Shockoe Slip offices for an informal screen test.

“I thought I was so awful. I was amazed at how uncomfortable I was trying to put out a line,” Fulton said.

He came home and told his kids, “I'm sorry, I know you wanted to see me on television.”

He was amazed to get a favorable review from The Martin Agency team and dumbfounded when he got a call on a business trip: The director loved it, too. It’s not that Fulton is the next Tom Hanks. On the contrary, they just wanted him to act naturally.

“We like to call it an honest performance,” Sage said.

Or as Fulton put it: “I knew they didn’t need Laurence Olivier, and you can't teach 6-11.”

Within a week, he joined a cast and crew of more than 40 on the set of a commercial with director David Frankham, known for making high-quality spots for such clients as Nike and ESPN.

The setting was the garage complex of UPS driver Dale Jarrett, with NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip on hand.

Fulton was paid the standard rate for a Screen Actors Guild actor — $535 a day, including travel days. He'll also receive residual payments every time the commercial runs, a prospect that could provide some high-octane returns.
The commercial's plot is being kept under wraps for now. Suffice it to say that Fulton’s national TV debut will let him flex his muscles.

He only had one line, which he repeated dozens of times as he was filmed from multiple angles.

And despite the prospects of making more commercials and getting an agent in Los Angeles, he doesn't sound like it’s getting to his head. “I always thought I’d be a decent actor,” Fulton said ruefully. “I no longer have that illusion.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Nov. 20, 2006